It started with the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anyone remember that one? It was a month ago. It was in the news and on the social media and everywhere, as always happens, there were stories about being prepared. Packing your emergency kit. Making a plan. Carrying cash. Granola bars, lots of them.
And I looked at the kids. And they looked back at me. And I thought, ‘Where do I want to be when the big one hits? Do I want to be in an old office building? On public transit? Or here, with my kids, so that at least three of us are together.’
Assuming the big earthquake doesn’t kill us on a Saturday. I mean if I could predict the day of the week I’d hardly be here yakkity yakking about it, would I. I’d be on CNN or dial-a-psychic or something.
Coincidentally, it was time to make important decisions about my working future. As you may know, I am on an unpaid, extended leave from my office job. I had pushed my going-back-to-work date from April to October, thinking it would be good to take September to get Trombone settled in school, and get the kids settled with their as-yet-unspecified-caregiver. I was, notably, not making any decisions. Not because I am lazy, but because I didn’t want to. People would ask me, ‘so – got a daycare lined up? Got a nanny?’ And I would shrug and put it off.
Many possibilities floated around in my head, like clouds of dust floating in sunlight. I liked watching the dust float. I liked that there were possibilities. I didn’t so much want to nail down those possibilities and make them happen. Kind of like, sure I could dust. But the motes in the sunlight, they are so pretty.
I didn’t want to go back to work but I was convinced it was time. Why?
1. We had budgeted and saved enough money to pay for two years of me being home, and that money was almost gone.
2. I owe my job 18 months worth of service to pay for my maternity leave, so I have to go back ‘at some point’ within five years of leaving.
3. Uh, I said I would?
When I made the decision in 2009 to stay home for two more years, it wasn’t to do with the kids. It was about me. I don’t like my office job. I liked being at home more than I liked my office job, but just barely. Mostly, I didn’t want to spend my days commuting, dropping and picking up children at daycare, stressing about peanut free lunches and paying through the nose for the privilege. Just so that I could go to a job that, see above, I don’t like.
But this time, the decision felt like it was about the kids. That was confusing. Obviously I don’t always love being at home. You can review my tweet stream for proof. Sometimes I hide in the bathroom with the door locked. Sometimes I let them watch extra television so that I can breathe. Sometimes when they’re red-faced and angry and bored to tears in our little living room and all I want to do is make supper that they probably won’t eat, I think, is this the right thing? Really? Wouldn’t they be happier in an environment where someone would enjoy being with them? Or at least be paid to pretend?
Something had definitely shifted. It is easier for me, these days, to be at home full time. The kids are more independent; they look at books and they draw and play together, sometimes. I have friends. I have carved out the space to write and be alone. This isn’t just survival parenting anymore, this is the good stuff. This is the day-to-day magic. We have found our groove. It doesn’t feel boring all the time anymore, it feels fleeting. It feels short term instead of dinosaur years. It feels manageable. (and yes, I waited a full month to write this, just to make sure it wasn’t an unnaturally good week that week/drugs in the water/what-have-you)
If I had a career I loved, then it might be a different decision, because if I had a career I loved I would feel torn between two things I love. Emotionally, I do not feel torn about this decision at all. Financially it is a different story.
(Oh and by the way, here is a pop quiz:
Q: What do I love to do?
Q: If I went back to work full time, thus adding a second full time job to my first, would I have more? or less? time to write?
A: Less! Sucker!)
The more I thought about it, the more sure I became. I really wanted to stay home. We had to re-negotiate our mortgage this year anyway (home owners for five years now!) and we got a lower interest rate. We borrowed some money and that lowered our mortgage payments even more. I found two tax returns in a bank account I never use. (I know. It is both ridiculous and true.) Saint Aardvark said, heck yeah. Go for it. The universe was lining up its stars to tell me that it would be OK.
What a relief! I enjoyed the decision for a week. Then we got sick.
The whole time we were sick (pretty much the whole month of March, on and off. March, you may go suck it now.) I tested myself. “How about now?” I would ask, “When you have to spend your last precious 45 minutes of naptime holding Fresco so he can breathe and sleep at the same time? And then spend the afternoons in the courtyard watching children be children, which is not so interesting. And arguing about whether or not toasted bread is toast. It’s just laundry and cereal, laundry and cereal. Your head hurts all the time. Fresco is throwing stuffed puppies at you. How about now?”
Yes. The answer has always been yes.
In September, Trombone will start school. He will be gone six hours a day, five days a week. Which is fine, actually, because he can be a real pain in the butt. In two years, Fresco will start school. He will be gone six hours a day, five days a week. Hopefully he will be using a toilet by then.
A wise woman with two older sons said to me, “When they’re gone, they’re gone.” No, not entirely. And yes, letting go is important. I’m not going to stand outside their school and howl at the windows like some deranged husky. But I want to do this now, while I can. Later, when I can’t anymore, I will do something else.
I have my entire life to work for money. I have my entire life to do menial paperwork and gossip about Mary. I have my entire life, which might be two or twenty or thousands of days long. I don’t have their entire lives. Realistically, I have the first five years of their lives.
Which doesn’t feel very long, all of a sudden, with the world warring and disintegrating along fault lines and causing nuclear reactors to leak. All I can do is put on clean underwear and hope for the best.